Adam Isacson

Defense, security, borders, migration, and human rights in Latin America and the United States. May not reflect my employer’s consensus view.

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Civil-Military Relations in the Americas: Some Links from the Past Month

Following the January 9 wave of criminal attacks and violence throughout Ecuador, President Daniel Noboa has declared a state of “internal conflict” and has deployed soldiers throughout the nation’s streets. Some experts warn that using soldiers as police on a long-term or semi-permanent basis threatens human rights, weakens democratic civil-military relations, and hasn’t worked against organized crime in most places that it has been tried. Noboa’s move, though, is popular as citizens deal with the shock of the January 9 attacks.

Argentina‘s new president, Javier Milei, forced at least 23 of the country’s 35 active generals into retirement, the largest purge since the country’s 1983 transition to democracy. Milei is moving fast to move the armed forces into policing and public security roles, which would reverse reforms of the country’s democratic transition and of the Kirchner presidency of the 2000s. Milei and his security minister, Patricia Bullrich, are pointing to the violence in Ecuador to justify their push to militarize policing.

Mexico‘s Proceso magazine found that military personnel assigned to the country’s new National Guard have been embroiled in many cases of indiscipline, including attacks on fellow personnel and alcohol and drug use. Morale appears to be low among soldiers whom the López Obrador government has assigned to be super-policemen: army and navy sources say that “there is excessive stress in the National Guard because the elements are forced to perform functions that are not theirs, and for which they are not prepared, since they only received four weeks’ training, which is insufficient to be in charge of public security. In addition, most of them have junior high school or high school as their highest level of education.” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador continues to seek legislative ways to place the National Guard under the military’s command, despite a Supreme Court decision stopping that from happening.

Mexico relaunched Mexicana Airlines on December 26 with a flight from Mexico City to Tulum. The airline is now fully controlled by the country’s armed forces.

A team of researchers from Mexico City’s Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana published a book contending that the National Guard is being deployed to put down community protests against extractive economic projects like logging and mining.

Peruvian President Dina Boluarte named a new armed forces chief. When he headed Peru‘s army, Gen. David Ojeda repeatedly sought to avoid testifying before prosecutors investigating abuses committed during a wave of protests against Boluarte’s late 2022 arrival in power. Gen. Ojeda reportedly referred to the protests as “subversive social violence.”

The head of Honduras‘s Military Public Order Police (PMOP), which has been tasked with managing prisons, called for a purge of the institution after a military prison director in El Paraíso was caught trying to bring in cash to hand out to inmates who belong to the Barrio 18 gang.

Reporteros de Investigación profiled retired Honduran colonel Elías Melgar Urbina, who “has held several hats in Xiomara Castro’s government,” including some related to the military and human rights, despite serious allegations of past involvement in human rights abuse.

Eight judges in Colombia‘s military justice system have been fired in just over a year due to alleged corruption.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro left generals confused by several last-minute changes to end-of-year promotion lists and unit assignments.

Bolivia‘s Congress was once again unable to approve a list of senior military and police promotions. Opposition legislators claim that the list is politicized.

La Tercera interviewed Gen. Paula Carrasco, an air force officer who is now the first woman to reach the rank of general in Chile‘s armed forces.

“Latin America’s armed forces are no longer irrelevant,” which increases the still mostly remote possibility of inter-state conflict in the Americas, the Economist contended.

At Least 545,000 People—Many From Outside the Americas—Migrated Through Honduras in 2023

As we noted in a June report, Honduras keeps a reasonably accurate count of migrants transiting its territory, because it requires people to register with the government in order to have permission to board a bus. A minority travel with smugglers and don’t register, but most do.

Honduras also reports the nationalities of “irregular” migrants in something close to real time, so here’s what in-transit migration looked like through December.

Data table

The top 15 nationalities transiting Honduras during December were:

  1. Venezuela 13,803 (32% of 42,637 total)
  2. Cuba 8,997 (21%)
  3. Guinea 3,558 (8%)
  4. Ecuador 3,324 (8%)
  5. Haiti 3,001 (7%)
  6. China 2,121 (5%)
  7. India 1,472 (3%)
  8. Colombia 1,461 (3%)
  9. Senegal 706 (2%)
  10. Chile (children of Haitians) 456 (1%)
  11. Afghanistan 325 (1%)
  12. Vietnam 325 (1%)
  13. Peru 305 (1%)
  14. Brazil 249 (some children of Haitians) (1%)
  15. Angola 222 (1%)

The top 15 nationalities during all of 2023 were:

  1. Venezuela 228,889 (42% of 545,364 total)
  2. Cuba 85,969 (16%)
  3. Haiti 82,249 (15%)
  4. Ecuador 46,086 (8%)
  5. Colombia 13,136 (2%)
  6. Guinea 12,902 (2%)
  7. China 12,184 (2%)
  8. Senegal 8,964 (2%)
  9. Mauritania 5,816 (1%)
  10. Uzbekistan 5,153 (1%)
  11. India 4,366 (1%)
  12. Chile (children of Haitians) 3,004 (1%)
  13. Egypt 2,845 (1%)
  14. Afghanistan 2,729 (1%)
  15. Angola 2,640 (0.5%)

A few things are notable about this data:

  1. Nationalities from Asia and Africa are heavily represented. The Americas made up just 8 of December’s top 15 countries, and 6 of 2023’s top 15 countries. The situation in the Darién Gap is similar: only 7 of the top 15 nationalities counted by Panamanian authorities during the first 11 months of 2023 were Latin American or Caribbean.
  2. The total is similar to that measured in the Darién Gap. Panama’s Public Security Ministry reported on Monday that a stunning 520,085 migrants passed through the Darien Gap in 2023. Honduras reported a similarly stunning 545,364. Both are more than double 2022’s totals.
  3. Honduras’s total is greater than the Darién Gap, even though some migrants don’t register, because it includes many migrants who arrived by air in Nicaragua. Honduras’s neighbor to the south lies north of the Darién Gap, making it unnecessary to take that treacherous route, and does not require visas of visitors from most of the world. A growing number of people from Cuba, Haiti, and other continents have been taking circuitous commercial air routes, or often charter planes like one halted in France two weeks ago, to arrive in Managua and then travel overland to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of the increase in migration through Honduras reflects the growth of that route—especially those from African countries, whose numbers declined in the Darién Gap because Nicaragua presented a safer, shorter alternative. (Darién Gap travelers from outside the Americas often fly first to Ecuador or Brazil.)

December 2023 Set a New U.S.-Mexico Border Monthly Migration Record

Update January 29, 2024: CBP has released final December 2023 data. Read an updated post with nine charts illustrating migration trends.

Border Patrol shares monthly data about its apprehensions of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border since October 1999. As this chart shows, during that time, the number of migrant apprehensions in a single month has never exceeded 225,000. (224,370 in May 2022, 222,018 in December 2022, 220,063 in March 2000.)

Data table

That threshold has now been passed. CBS News’s Camilo Montoya-Galvez reported yesterday, “U.S. Border Patrol agents took into custody more than 225,000 migrants who crossed the southern border—in between official crossings—during the first 27 days of December, according to the preliminary Department of Homeland Security [DHS] statistics.”

(This number does not include approximately 50,000 more migrants who come each month to ports of entry—official border crossings—usually with appointments.)

Montoya-Galvez shared Border Patrol’s daily averages, showing modest decline in migrant arrivals over the past week:

The current spike in migration peaked before Christmas, during the week starting on Dec. 14 and ending on Dec. 20, when Border Patrol averaged 9,773 daily apprehensions, according to the data. On several days that week, the agency processed more than 10,000 migrants in 24 hours.

Unlawful crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border have decreased this week, but remain at historically high levels. On Wednesday, Border Patrol processed 7,759 migrants, the statistics show.

In his morning press conference yesterday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador shared this slide of data from Customs and Border Protection (CBP, Border Patrol’s parent agency), depicting CBP’s monthly migrant encounters through the first 17 days of December. This slide appears to combine Border Patrol apprehensions with CBP’s port-of-entry encounters, so the numbers are a bit higher.

Combining encounters with migrants at the ports of entry and between them, the chart shows a daily average of 9,787 people per day over December 1-17, increasing to 10,187 per day over December 1-21.

The chart shows a sharp increase in daily arrivals of Venezuelan citizens, whose numbers dropped in October and November after the Biden administration’s October 5 announcement that it was resuming deportation flights to Caracas.

There have since been 11 such flights, DHS reported on December 27. It appears that despite the (not huge) risk of being on one of these roughly one-per-week flights, Venezuelan asylum seekers are again coming in greater numbers.

The Number-One Nationality of Migrants Apprehended in each Border Patrol Sector in November

A remarkable variation, in both nationalities and overall numbers. From data CBP released late yesterday:

  • Tucson, Arizona: Mexico (30,201 of 64,638)
  • Del Rio, Texas: Venezuela (12,932 of 42,952)
  • San Diego, California: “Other Countries” (7,174 of 31,164)
  • El Paso, Texas-New Mexico: Mexico (6,209 of 22,403)
  • Rio Grande Valley, Texas: Venezuela (4,199 of 18,774)
  • Yuma, Arizona-California: Peru (1,742 of 6,159)
  • Laredo, Texas: Mexico (1,650 of 2,809)
  • El Centro, California: Mexico (876 of 1,787)
  • Big Bend, Texas: Mexico (330 of 427)

Total: Mexico (50,967 of 191,113)

At CBP’s U.S.-Mexico border ports of entry (official border crossings):

  • Laredo, Texas: Mexico (6,735 of 24,224)
  • San Diego, California: Cuba (5,074 of 15,432)
  • El Paso, Texas-New Mexico: Venezuela (2,163 of 7,617)
  • Tucson, Arizona: Mexico (1,646 of 4,032)

Total: Mexico (13,844 of 51,305)

Mexico Encountered a Record 97,969 Migrants in November

The Mexican government just released new data showing that it recorded 97,969 “events of people in irregular migratory situation” during November 2023. That’s 5 percent more than October, and sets a new record for the most migrant encounters that Mexico has ever recorded in a month:

Mexico’s Apprehensions of All Migrants,
January 2001-November 2023

Jan-01	14061
Feb-01	17965
Mar-01	20613
Apr-01	15770
May-01	17368
Jun-01	13947
Jul-01	13283
Aug-01	12731
Sep-01	9740
Oct-01	5423
Nov-01	4727
Dec-01	4902
Jan-02	8968
Feb-02	10722
Mar-02	11443
Apr-02	13930
May-02	15040
Jun-02	12784
Jul-02	13415
Aug-02	11996
Sep-02	11781
Oct-02	10607
Nov-02	9686
Dec-02	7689
Jan-03	11556
Feb-03	14945
Mar-03	16998
Apr-03	11558
May-03	20391
Jun-03	19253
Jul-03	18046
Aug-03	18027
Sep-03	16409
Oct-03	16480
Nov-03	14302
Dec-03	9649
Jan-04	15242
Feb-04	19095
Mar-04	21434
Apr-04	20526
May-04	20726
Jun-04	18204
Jul-04	19715
Aug-04	17936
Sep-04	17999
Oct-04	18240
Nov-04	16559
Dec-04	10019
Jan-05	17673
Feb-05	22118
Mar-05	24267
Apr-05	24509
May-05	20592
Jun-05	19922
Jul-05	19657
Aug-05	20376
Sep-05	20630
Oct-05	16208
Nov-05	20545
Dec-05	13772
Jan-06	21867
Feb-06	24547
Mar-06	24892
Apr-06	19234
May-06	16870
Jun-06	12926
Jul-06	11487
Aug-06	12183
Sep-06	12480
Oct-06	10601
Nov-06	10109
Dec-06	5509
Jan-07	11215
Feb-07	11910
Mar-07	12473
Apr-07	11796
May-07	12004
Jun-07	11095
Jul-07	10846
Aug-07	12520
Sep-07	9047
Oct-07	7292
Nov-07	6431
Dec-07	3826
Jan-08	8970
Feb-08	10787
Mar-08	9305
Apr-08	11031
May-08	9747
Jun-08	8394
Jul-08	7585
Aug-08	6705
Sep-08	6521
Oct-08	6894
Nov-08	5506
Dec-08	3278
Jan-09	5943
Feb-09	6246
Mar-09	6884
Apr-09	6742
May-09	5701
Jun-09	6872
Jul-09	5718
Aug-09	5789
Sep-09	6039
Oct-09	5450
Nov-09	4388
Dec-09	3261
Jan-10	4759
Feb-10	5796
Mar-10	7336
Apr-10	6695
May-10	7075
Jun-10	6378
Jul-10	6760
Aug-10	6755
Sep-10	5098
Oct-10	4714
Nov-10	5077
Dec-10	3659
Jan-11	4430
Feb-11	5087
Mar-11	6695
Apr-11	6471
May-11	7852
Jun-11	5717
Jul-11	5215
Aug-11	5299
Sep-11	5586
Oct-11	5453
Nov-11	5267
Dec-11	3511
Jan-12	6343
Feb-12	7442
Mar-12	9291
Apr-12	8732
May-12	8874
Jun-12	8082
Jul-12	6860
Aug-12	6496
Sep-12	8746
Oct-12	7879
Nov-12	6364
Dec-12	3397
Jan-13	6699
Feb-13	7407
Mar-13	8290
Apr-13	7951
May-13	7718
Jun-13	7370
Jul-13	7471
Aug-13	7443
Sep-13	6657
Oct-13	7549
Nov-13	7300
Dec-13	4443
Jan-14	6295
Feb-14	8317
Mar-14	10502
Apr-14	8621
May-14	10132
Jun-14	12515
Jul-14	11005
Aug-14	11618
Sep-14	11111
Oct-14	13700
Nov-14	13671
Dec-14	9662
Jan-15	18299
Feb-15	14885
Mar-15	16569
Apr-15	17085
May-15	19402
Jun-15	17152
Jul-15	17195
Aug-15	17088
Sep-15	15450
Oct-15	18232
Nov-15	14755
Dec-15	12029
Jan-16	11218
Feb-16	11420
Mar-16	14253
Apr-16	16700
May-16	16454
Jun-16	14850
Jul-16	13604
Aug-16	16502
Sep-16	19811
Oct-16	20494
Nov-16	17579
Dec-16	13331
Jan-17	10553
Feb-17	7275
Mar-17	5905
Apr-17	5243
May-17	7071
Jun-17	7471
Jul-17	7863
Aug-17	9171
Sep-17	7757
Oct-17	9678
Nov-17	9227
Dec-17	6632
Jan-18	9248
Feb-18	11549
Mar-18	11779
Apr-18	11486
May-18	10350
Jun-18	9577
Jul-18	8965
Aug-18	13560
Sep-18	13903
Oct-18	18895
Nov-18	12663
Dec-18	6637
Jan-19	8521
Feb-19	10194
Mar-19	13508
Apr-19	21197
May-19	23241
Jun-19	31396
Jul-19	19822
Aug-19	16066
Sep-19	13517
Oct-19	12256
Nov-19	9727
Dec-19	7305
Jan-20	14119
Feb-20	8377
Mar-20	8421
Apr-20	2628
May-20	2251
Jun-20	2304
Jul-20	4737
Aug-20	7445
Sep-20	8831
Oct-20	12253
Nov-20	9557
Dec-20	6337
Jan-21	9564
Feb-21	12893
Mar-21	18548
Apr-21	22968
May-21	20091
Jun-21	19249
Jul-21	25830
Aug-21	43031
Sep-21	46370
Oct-21	41580
Nov-21	29264
Dec-21	18291
Jan-22	23382
Feb-22	24304
Mar-22	30753
Apr-22	31206
May-22	33290
Jun-22	30423
Jul-22	33902
Aug-22	42719
Sep-22	43792
Oct-22	52201
Nov-22	49485
Dec-22	48982
Jan-23	37360
Feb-23	38041
Mar-23	44628
Apr-23	24993
May-23	40024
Jun-23	58265
Jul-23	73515
Aug-23	82350
Sep-23	96542
Oct-23	93045
Nov-23	97969

Data table

Migrants came from 111 countries. Of nationalities with more than 1,000 migrant encounters, those that increased the most from October to November were Mauritania (119%), the Dominican Republic (92%), and Honduras (65%). Those that declined the most from October to November were Cuba (-52%), Senegal (-28%), and Guinea (-11%). Venezuela, the number-one nationality, declined 8 percent.

Mexico’s Migrant Apprehensions (Since 2022)

November 2023: Venezuela 27%, Honduras 15%, Haiti 10%, Guatemala 9%, Ecuador 8%, All Others <4%

Since January 2022: Venezuela 26%, Honduras 16%, Guatemala 13%, Ecuador 7%, Cuba 6%, Nicaragua 5%, All Others <5%

Data table

Even as Mexico measured an increase in migration in November, two countries to the south, Panama and Honduras, reported double-digit percentage decreases.

Testimony on Organized Crime and Human Rights in Colombia

I had a few extra days to submit my written testimony from last week’s hearing of the U.S. Congress Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, since I was added to the panel a couple of days before. I just finished it and sent it in.

Here it is—and here as a PDF.

Written testimony of
Adam Isacson, Director for Defense Oversight, Washington Office on Latin America
Hearing: “Organized Crime, Gangs and Human Rights in Latin America”
Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC
December 14, 2023

Chairmen McGovern and Smith, thank you for calling this hearing. It’s an honor to be with you today.

I’m going to talk about Colombia, which today has a confusing array of armed and criminal groups. A decade ago, I could have named all armed or criminal groups in Colombia that had more than 100 members; today, I cannot do that with confidence. A February 2023 report from the Colombian think-tank INDEPAZ counted about 22 of them, in the categories of “narco-paramilitaries,” “post-FARC groups,” and “guerrillas.”[1]

They run the drug trade. They degrade the environment. They facilitate migration, including through the treacherous Darién Gap, where the Gulf Clan “narco-paramilitary” organization has a monopoly on smuggling on the Colombian side.[2] They kill thousands each year, including the world’s highest numbers of murdered human rights and environmental defenders.[3] They displace or confine hundreds of thousands more.

INDEPAZ categorization of Colombian armed and criminal groups

Narco-ParamilitariesPost-FARC Groups (FARC Dissidents)Guerrillas
Drug trafficking groups, most of which have leaders who participated in the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a confederation of pro-government militias that demobilized in 2006. The Gulf Clan is by far the largest.Loose confederations of groups led by former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group, who rejected the 2016 peace accord. Less than 10 percent of FARC members who demobilized in 2017 have re-armed.[4]The National Liberation Army (ELN), founded in 1964, is the only remaining leftist guerrilla group.
Active in about 345 of Colombia’s 1,104 municipalities (counties)Active in about 161 municipalitiesActive in about 162 municipalities
– Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces or Gulf Clan
– EPL or Pelusos
– La Oficina
– Los Pachencas
– Los Puntilleros
– Los Rastrojos
– Los Caparros
– Los Costeños
– Los Pachelly
– La Constru
– Los Contadores
– Los Shotas
– Los Espartanos
– Southeastern Bloc (Central General Staff)
– Comando Coordinador de Occidente (Central General Staff)
– Segunda Marquetalia
– “Independent” groups:
– 33rd Front
– 36th Front
– Oliver Sinisterra Front
– Guerrillas Unidas del Pacífico
– 4th Front
– ELN
Source: “Informe sobre presencia de grupos armados en Colombia 2021 – 2022” (Bogotá: INDEPAZ, November 25, 2022), https://indepaz.org.co/informe-sobre-presencia-de-grupos-armados-en-colombia-2021-2022-1/

Why organized crime is so much harder to fight than guerrillas

In 2016 Colombia’s largest leftist guerrilla group, the FARC, signed a peace accord and demobilized, following a decade-long, U.S.-backed series of military offensives and four years of negotiations. Guerrillas have disappeared from many areas, from the roads around Bogotá to the slums around Medellín. But it is difficult to identify a territory in Colombia that was under organized crime’s influence 30 years ago—going back to the heyday of the now-defunct Medellín and Cali cartels—that is not under organized crime’s influence today.

Hundreds of top cartel and criminal-organization leaders have been killed, imprisoned, and extradited to the United States. The groups’ names change, they divide internally, or are supplanted by other groups. But organized crime is still remarkably active throughout Colombia, and a constant factor in millions of Colombians’ daily lives. Often, today’s active groups can trace their DNA back to the cartels of the 1980s and 1990s, the paramilitaries of the 1990s and 2000s, and remnants of demobilized leftist guerrillas.

Weakening the FARC to the point that it was willing to negotiate cost Colombia tens of thousands of lives, and billions of dollars (many from Washington) that could have saved or improved millions of lives. After all that, Colombia’s other adversary, organized crime, remains as strong and as wealthy as ever.

Why has organized crime been so much more resilient, and so much harder to confront, than leftist guerrillas? There are a few key reasons.

  • The FARC had a firm command hierarchy, while organized crime is looser and networked. Removing leaders did more harm to the FARC’s command and control.
  • Because of its loose structure, organized crime often fragments when confronted (and sometimes fragments anyway because of internal divisions). The result is dozens of groups instead of just a few.
  • Members and leaders of organized crime groups are more often mixed in with the population, more likely to be in towns and less likely to be in distant areas like jungle encampments, which are more susceptible to aerial attacks and other offensive operations.
  • Most importantly, the FARC actually wanted to fight the government. Organized crime groups will confront government forces or institutions when they see their interests gravely threatened or wish to send a message. But they prefer not to do that. Fighting the government is bad for a group’s business, as it focuses the state’s military and intelligence resources against it.

Instead, organized crime thrives on its relationship with government. Corruption is the oxygen that it breathes. Criminals need police who will look the other way when a cocaine shipment is going downriver. They need mayors who go along when they traffic people or dig illegal gold mines out in the open. They need prosecutors who let cases die.

The problem of government collusion with organized crime is especially concerning when it concerns the security forces. (Colombia’s military and police have been the Americas’ number-one recipients of U.S. security assistance since the early 1990s.) A scan of Colombian media reveals numerous examples of military and police personnel, at all levels and all around the country, accused of colluding with armed and criminal groups.

Read More

Unusual: Even as Migration Drops Along the U.S.-Bound Route, It Jumps at the Border

According to leaked CBP data, U.S. authorities encountered 14,509 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border yesterday (December 18). That’s probably about 13,000 Border Patrol apprehensions between ports of entry (official border crossings) and about 1,500 people reporting to the ports of entry, nearly always with appointments made using the “CBP One” app.

That’s almost certainly the largest number of migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border in any day since at least 2000.

Aaron at the American Immigration Council says this increase, which seems to have begun in November, “is driven partly by rumors that the border will close soon and the CBP One app will be shut down.” That may explain it. A funding crisis at Mexico’s migration agency (National Migration Institute, INM) could also be a factor.

This is really unusual, though, because migration data further south along the U.S.-bound migration route would lead one to expect the numbers at the U.S.-Mexico border to be declining. Panama, Honduras, and Mexico have been reporting fewer people coming after record-breaking levels in late summer and early fall.

Here’s Panama: a 24 percent decline in migration through the Darién Gap from October to November, and a 50 percent decline in migration from September to November. So, fewer people departing the South American continent.

Monthly Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

November 2023: Venezuela 61%, China 11%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 9%, Ecuador 8%, Colombia 5%, all others <1%

Since January 2020: Venezuela 53%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 21%, Ecuador 9%, all others <3%

Data table

Here’s Honduras: down 41 percent from October to November. So, fewer people coming from South America and through the increasingly used aerial entry point in Nicaragua.

Honduras’s “Irregular” Migrant Encounters (Since August 2022)

November 2023: Venezuela 44%, Cuba 20%, Haiti 9%, Ecuador 6%, Guinea 5%, China 4%, All Others <4%

Since August 2022: Venezuela 41%, Cuba 18%, Haiti 14%, Ecuador 10%, Colombia 2.2%, All Others <2% 

	Venezuela	Cuba	Haiti	Ecuador	Colombia	China	Guinea	Senegal	Mauritania	Other Countries
22-Aug	10769	6899	836	1583	314	42	19	118	18	2278
22-Sep	11325	5144	863	1685	379	45	23	135	14	2220
22-Oct	14027	5290	1856	5793	723	99	30	185	18	3037
22-Nov	3756	9219	2858	5130	400	186	34	158	38	3857
22-Dec	1923	7225	2518	6557	231	405	22	87	63	4034
23-Jan	1866	2079	5365	4562	296	415	72	202	31	4054
23-Feb	4462	629	4092	5010	449	688	97	159	71	4449
23-Mar	9112	776	2991	2493	624	719	90	191	88	4576
23-Apr	10883	1301	2392	1692	682	985	87	472	87	4350
23-May	11809	2397	1629	2147	654	801	277	831	427	4398
23-Jun	12698	3254	1305	2817	488	1045	118	390	1801	2870
23-Jul	25050	6721	1558	6116	954	980	389	1398	2036	3769
23-Aug	35669	11343	4051	5789	1330	654	1005	1629	1036	3020
23-Sep	42550	19288	14898	4830	2174	570	1762	1066	48	3453
23-Oct	34547	17513	35529	3581	2021	1006	2304	1235	75	4198
23-Nov	26440	11671	5438	3725	2003	2200	3143	685	87	4395

Data table

And here’s Mexico: down 4 percent from September to October (Mexico, like the United States, has not reported November yet).

Mexico’s Migrant Apprehensions (Since 2022)

October 2023: Venezuela 30%, Haiti 11%, Honduras 10%, Cuba 8%, Ecuador 7.5%, Guatemala 7.1%, All Others <4%

Since January 2022: Venezuela 26%, Honduras 16%, Guatemala 13%, Ecuador 7%, Cuba 6%, Nicaragua 5.2%, All Others <5%

	Venezuela	Honduras	Guatemala	Ecuador	Cuba	Nicaragua	Colombia	El Salvador	Haiti	Other Countries
22-Jan	2733	5841	6304	246	2214	2234	503	1565	368	1374
22-Feb	1120	5929	5191	202	3384	1843	2986	1721	254	1674
22-Mar	1209	6390	6075	276	6333	2701	3375	2338	205	1851
22-Apr	1960	6457	6920	513	6103	2854	1746	2579	304	1770
22-May	1640	7544	7222	780	3191	3474	3031	3307	246	2855
22-Jun	3919	6507	7010	668	2481	1561	2840	1990	110	3337
22-Jul	6431	7461	6578	719	2550	2182	2169	2936	145	2731
22-Aug	16885	5741	4927	1185	2159	2327	2479	2544	174	4298
22-Sep	15381	5309	4932	1528	3244	4062	2704	2471	223	3938
22-Oct	21781	5475	4632	3266	3247	5711	2179	2144	308	3458
22-Nov	12298	5895	5380	4459	3318	7329	2225	2379	505	5697
22-Dec	11721	4379	4344	8314	3251	4547	2041	1271	1605	7509
23-Jan	5329	3911	4015	6081	2919	2200	964	1234	2319	8388
23-Feb	6721	5202	4249	7003	384	408	1435	1234	2971	8434
23-Mar	9119	6053	6025	3126	237	205	3170	1793	3769	11131
23-Apr	6725	3759	3303	1018	156	164	1369	1118	1658	5723
23-May	17258	5034	3259	2187	472	225	1258	834	1496	8001
23-Jun	18480	11162	6952	4559	1021	883	1313	1474	1573	10848
23-Jul	24236	15450	7484	6115	1837	1762	1756	1854	1951	11070
23-Aug	21936	20139	12673	7328	1320	1939	2450	2533	1258	10774
23-Sep	30560	12059	9146	8199	5022	2829	3905	2603	4079	18140
23-Oct	28275	8954	6600	6937	7202	1887	3055	2656	10646	16696

Data table

Why are the numbers up so much at the U.S. border when they’re down everywhere else along the route? The answer probably has to do with:

  • A jump in migration from citizens of Mexico and Central American, and/or
  • Crossings of Venezuelans and others who had arrived in Mexico more than 1-2 months ago, and perhaps are now giving up on waiting for CBP One.

Also, If recent Decembers are a guide, the U.S. border numbers could be on the verge of dropping. The first halves of December 2021 and December 2022 saw very heavy migration, capping off growth that accelerated all fall (as did the fall of 2023). Numbers dropped during the second halves of those Decembers, as the holidays approached.

Border Patrol Apprehensions by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

October 2023: Mexico 26%, Venezuela 16%, Guatemala 12%, Honduras 10%, Colombia 7%, Ecuador 6%, El Salvador 3%, All Others <3% 

Since October 2020: Mexico 33%, Guatemala 12.2%, Honduras 11.6%, Venezuela 8%, Cuba 6%, Nicaragua 5.2%, All Others <5%

Data table

There’s Empathy at Border Patrol, but it Depends on “What Agent You Get”

For a few months now, but especially in the past few weeks, large numbers of migrants have been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. A Border Patrol agent told the Los Angeles Times that about 90 percent of them are turning themselves in to ask for asylum.

It’s a humanitarian crisis, with hundreds forced to wait in the desert for long periods for overwhelmed Border Patrol agents to come and process them. Some of the crisis is self-inflicted, since there is only one port of entry in all of Arizona that allows asylum seekers to make “CBP One” appointments (Nogales), and it only takes 100 appointments per day, out of a border-wide 1,450. The scarcity of appointments pushes people into the desert.

Humanitarian volunteers from Arizona organizations like Tucson Samaritans and Humane Borders have been on scene providing food, water, and other help. These groups’ past relationships with the U.S. Border Patrol have been rocky. Some have denounced Border Patrol interference with humanitarian supplies, while agents have suspected volunteers of harboring migrants or incentivizing illegal crossings. During the Trump administration, agents twice raided a camp run by another group, No More Deaths.

But the crisis has brought a new level of cooperation, or at least friendliness, between Border Patrol and humanitarian groups. Emily Bregel of the Arizona Daily Star has commented on this side of Border Patrol a few times in her recent reporting from rural Arizona.

From December 6:

Aid workers and the Border Patrol have historically had a tense relationship, Abbott [Humane Borders volunteer Dan Abbott] said. But the recent surge has brought out some camaraderie between the two groups, who share the same goal, he said.

“For years, Border Patrol and aid organizations have been kind of on opposite sides,” he said. “What’s happening now is that, we’re both invested in keeping people alive.”

Relations have almost become amicable, he said.

“We’re not buddies, but we’re not getting in each others’ way,” he said. “Our basic understanding of immigration is different from theirs, but so be it. We can still work together and care for people in the meantime.”

From December 2:

Kocourek [Gail Kocourek of Salvavision and Tucson Samaritans] said agents seem to increasingly tolerate, and even welcome, aid workers’ presence and their reports of migrants with medical needs…

As he passed, one agent advised the Samaritans that 25 migrants were still left behind, at a nearby spot along the border wall.

…multiple Border Patrol trucks came roaring down the road, headed back to retrieve the waiting asylum seekers who would at least have shelter for the night.

An agent leaned out the window and grinned as the Samaritans waved happily, calling, “Thank you!”

From November 27:

Kocourek said she and other aid workers sat with the families near the wall until the Border Patrol picked them up. The agents were kind, she said.

“They had empathy. They understood these people were caught in the crossfire,” she said. “Most are in Tucson now. At least they’re alive and we’re helping them as much as we can.”

My WOLA colleagues Stephanie Brewer and Ana Lucía Verduzco were just in southern Arizona and published a brief memo today about what they saw. They heard similar news about positive interactions with Border Patrol agents, though with a key caveat.

Local aid groups alert Border Patrol to remote locations where asylum seekers are waiting. “Border Patrol is leaning on us,” a volunteer told us. But how quickly or humanely Border Patrol responds to migrants in distress or waiting asylum seekers often depends on “what agent you get”.

They say that individual agents continue to vary widely. Some are empathetic and helpful. Others are disdainful and indifferent to suffering. Who you get, it seems, depends on the shift.

It would be important to have a better idea of whether Border Patrol today offers any incentives for the empathetic, helpful agents. Are they more likely to get bonuses and promotions? Or does the Tucson Sector tend to reward “Old Patrol” types who treat even protection-seeking families as likely criminals?

Darién Gap Migration Fell in November

Panama has just posted statistics detailing migration through the treacherous Darién Gap region through November. They show the number of migrants passing through the Darién dropping for the third straight month, to less than half of August and September levels. November was 24 percent lighter than October.

Monthly Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

November 2023: Venezuela 61%, China 11%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 9%, Ecuador 8%, Colombia 5%, all others <1%

Since January 2020: Venezuela 53%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 21%, Ecuador 9%, all others <3%

	Venezuela	Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile)	Ecuador	Cuba	China	Colombia	India	Afghanistan	Peru	Other Countries
20-Jan	9	1332	11	48			7			131
20-Feb	20	1535	4	45		2	9			210
20-Mar	3	972	6	16		2	7			93
20-Apr		0								0
20-May		0								0
20-Jun	2	135	1	12			5			27
20-Jul		0								0
20-Aug		0			3	1				2
20-Sep	5	84				2				17
20-Oct	5	315	2			2			1	46
20-Nov	3	313	7	1		1			1	39
20-Dec	22	645	9	123		11	11		2	148
21-Jan	3	720	3	176		8	3			158
21-Feb	9	1231	2	205		7				403
21-Mar		2193	14	198	2	1	30			256
21-Apr	3	3818	12	1306			102			624
21-May	113	2180	5	1514			44			606
21-Jun	205	6527	9	2770		4	44			708
21-Jul	248	15488	19	2354		8	34			662
21-Aug	568	21285	22	2857		8	1			591
21-Sep	437	22473	48	1566	3	31	40			907
21-Oct	339	20626	88	3018	11	29	65			1728
21-Nov	352	3595	65	1639	22	18	158			1913
21-Dec	542	936	100	997	39	55	71			1454
22-Jan	1421	807	100	367	32	48	67	1	17	1842
22-Feb	1573	627	156	334	39	72	74	3	23	1361
22-Mar	1704	658	121	361	56	59	88	40	18	1722
22-Apr	2694	785	181	634	59	72	172	31	29	1477
22-May	9844	997	527	567	67	248	179	67	88	1310
22-Jun	11359	1025	555	416	66	287	228	82	109	1506
22-Jul	17066	1245	883	574	85	407	431	162	136	1833
22-Aug	23632	1921	1581	589	119	569	332	128	247	1986
22-Sep	38399	2642	2594	490	136	1306	350	180	365	1742
22-Oct	40593	4525	8487	663	274	1600	604	551	438	2038
22-Nov	668	5520	6350	535	377	208	813	379	34	1748
22-Dec	1374	6535	7821	431	695	188	756	596	39	1862
23-Jan	2337	12063	6352	142	913	333	562	291	39	1602
23-Feb	7097	7813	5203	36	1285	637	872	276	100	1338
23-Mar	20816	8335	2772	35	1657	1260	1109	359	261	1495
23-Apr	25395	5832	2683	59	1683	1634	446	386	277	1902
23-May	26409	3633	3059	59	1497	1645	161	192	394	1913
23-Jun	18501	1743	5052	74	1722	894	65	217	209	1245
23-Jul	38033	1548	9773	123	1789	1884	96	321	376	1444
23-Aug	62700	1992	8642	172	2433	2989	27	467	653	1871
23-Sep	58716	3176	4744	166	2588	2570	43	609	667	1989
23-Oct	34594	3958	2849	97	2934	2051	36	400	535	1802
23-Nov	22547	3232	2996	85	4090	1716	113	365	327	1760

Data table

Among major nationalities, the sharpest one-month declines were from Venezuela (-35%), Peru (-39%), Vietnam (-31%), and Benin (-38%). Migration from China increased 39 percent.

Venezuelan migrants may be delaying plans until they see what happens with the Biden administration’s announced resumption of deportation flights to Caracas. Colder weather and the end-of-year holidays may be part of the reason for the across-the-board decline.

Still, the barely governed jungle region finished the year’s first 11 months with nearly half a million migrants (495,459), which has never come close to happening before. A couple of weeks later, the count now stands at more than 506,000.

Annual Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

2023: Venezuela 64%, Ecuador 10.9%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 10.8%, China 5%, Colombia 4%, All Others <1%

Since 2010: Venezuela 47%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 22%, Ecuador 8%, Cuba 7%, China 3% Colombia 2%, All Others <2%

	Venezuela	Haiti (Plus Brazil and Chile)	Ecuador	Cuba	China	Colombia	India	Nepal	Bangladesh	Other Countries
2010		0		79	268		12	29	53	118
2011		1	15	18	9	65	11	9	45	110
2012		0	18	1154	11	24	48	213	89	220
2013		2	4	2010	1	26		297	398	313
2014		2	1	5026		9	1	468	377	291
2015	2	8	14	24623	1	32	1	2426	559	1623
2016	6	16742	93	7383		16	20	1619	580	3601
2017	18	40	50	736	6	36	1127	2138	506	2119
2018	65	420	51	329		13	2962	868	1525	2988
2019	78	10490	31	2691		23	1920	254	911	5704
2020	69	5331	40	245	3	21	39	56	123	538
2021	2819	101072	387	18600	77	169	592	523	1657	7830
2022	150327	27287	29356	5961	2005	5064	4094	1631	1884	20675
2023 (Nov)	317145	53325	54125	1048	22591	17613	3530	2153	1743	22186

Data table

So far this year, 22 percent of Darién Gap migrants have been minors. (UNICEF has estimated that half of minors transiting the Darién are under five years old.) 52 percent have been men, 26 percent women, 12 percent boys, and 10 percent girls.

From WOLA: Dismantling Legal Migration Pathways Won’t Secure the Border

Here’s WOLA’s statement about the migration negotiations happening right now in Congress. People accessing asylum are not the problem: the problem is our outdated, underfunded asylum system grappling with years-long backlogs. Appropriations should focus on that instead—and do no harm.

The White House is signaling support for life-threatening restrictions on asylum access, including raising the standard that asylum seekers must meet while being screened in U.S. custody. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) calls on Congress not to use the lives of tens of thousands of families and individuals as bargaining chips in exchange for assistance to Ukraine and Israel. 

Rather than putting people’s lives at risk, it is time to be realistic about the push and pull factors driving migration, guarantee due process to people who need protection, provide additional legal pathways to migration, and work with countries throughout the hemisphere that are also receiving record numbers of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Blocking asylum, a core human rights value adopted after World War II, has not and will not stop people from fleeing their homes and will worsen the humanitarian crisis. 

The reasons forcing asylum seekers from Venezuela, Haiti, Ukraine, Cuba, and many other nations to flee their homes will remain, regardless of changes in U.S. immigration policies. Right now, thousands of families are waiting for days in the most secluded border regions, in harsh conditions, and without supplies, to be picked up by Border Patrol in hopes of seeking protection in the country. 

The harsh measures that Texas’s state government is imposing aren’t deterring anyone: desperate people are crawling through razor wire with their children in El Paso, while over 3,000 per day are arriving in Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector, the very heart of Gov. Abbott’s crackdown. People are coming even though a growing number do not survive the journey: the migrant death toll at the U.S.-Mexico border and throughout the region is the highest it has ever been. Further tightening access to asylum, which is a cornerstone of our legal system and an important reform of the post-World War II era, will only contribute to dysfunction at the border and the loss of lives.

Raising credible fear interview standards, capping numbers of asylum seekers, expanding expedited removal proceedings, and restricting humanitarian parole will place thousands of people in life-threatening situations.

These policies would increase the probability of U.S. authorities committing refoulement (returning people to their place of persecution), a serious violation of human rights and of international and U.S. law. It is bad enough that U.S. immigration law makes journeying to U.S. soil and asking for asylum the only viable pathway for most to achieve protection in the United States, and that U.S. policy restricts asylum seekers’ access to ports of entry.

After a harrowing journey, while still in CBP’s jail-like facilities without access to counsel, many people with urgent protection needs will not be able to effectively defend their cases over the phone with distant asylum officers—especially if the administration and Congress raise the standard of “fear” to something close to what they would eventually have to prove in an immigration court. This policy change will return thousands back to likely death, torture, or imprisonment. The expedited removal process already fast tracks asylum proceedings at the border. Expanding it into the U.S. interior, impeding their ability to get lawyers and effectively make their cases, would subject migrants and asylum seekers throughout the country to speedy deportations without due process. 

Beyond a possible agreement on raising fear standards, Republicans are pushing for limits on the presidential authority, dating back to the 1950s, to offer migrants temporary humanitarian parole. A partial offer of parole to citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela increased order at the border by sharply reducing arrivals of most of those countries’ citizens. Restricting this program would overwhelm resources at the border.

These proposed policy changes directly contradict the United States’ commitments to racial equity, disproportionately impacting Black, Brown, and Indigenous migrants. The potential harm to these communities cannot be overlooked.

The standard for people to access asylum is not the problem; the problem is our outdated, underfunded asylum system grappling with years-long backlogs. Appropriations should focus on that, instead.

We urge Congress to not make permanent, harmful policy changes in exchange for a one-time funding package. The need for enduring, thoughtful solutions has never been more pressing.

Countries’ Options for Migrants Passing Through

I like this Washington Post editorial (not only because I’m mentioned) because it wrestles with one of the thorniest questions facing Latin America.

When large numbers of migrants are passing through your territory, how do you manage it in a way that’s not so “zero tolerance” that it strands thousands and creates a bonanza for organized crime, but that’s not so tolerant that the U.S. government comes down hard on you for “green-lighting” migrants passing through?

I struggled with those options a bit in a post here a couple of months ago, and it makes up much of the “recommendations” section of a report I’m writing right now about my recent research trip to Colombia (first draft complete this weekend even if it kills me). I appreciate the way the Post editorial lays out these lousy choices and what countries can do (integration of migrants, coordination with each other) to “make the U.S. government OK with it” if they legalize and manage in-transit migration instead of pushing it into the shadows.

At the Latin America Advisor: “Can Ecuador’s Next President Make the Country Safer?”

Thanks to the Inter-American Dialogue for the opportunity to contribute to their Latin America Advisor publication, in which they seek input from a few people about a current question.

The question this week was about Ecuador: “Ecuadorean President-elect Daniel Noboa, who takes office next Thursday, has raised the possibility of using the military to fight drug traffickers and has said he would call for a referendum on the subject within his first 100 days in office. Noboa is taking office in the midst of a surge in narcotrafficking and violence, which has led the homicide rate to soar. Why has outgoing President Guillermo Lasso been unable to curb violence and the homicide rate, and what must Noboa do differently? Will voters approve using the military to fight drug traffickers? What challenges will Noboa face in improving security given that his term lasts only 18 months?”

My response:

“It’s hard to think of other jurisdictions where violent crime rates increased sixfold in just four years, but that is what has happened in once-peaceful Ecuador. Outgoing President Guillermo Lasso, who governed during the pandemic and a chaotic post-FARC realignment of Colombia’s trafficking networks, lacked the institutional tools to respond to criminal violence, which originated in prisons and along trafficking routes but has since metastasized. Like Lasso, Daniel Noboa now must address the challenge while able to employ only his government’s weak, neglected, corruption-riven security sector. Under those circumstances, sending in the military to fight crime may seem like an attractive option. But there are very few examples in the hemisphere of violent crime declining significantly after troop deployments, and many examples of such deployments increasing human rights abuses. Unlike insurgencies, organized crime is an ‘enemy’ that prefers not to fight the government. It operates by penetrating and corrupting the same state institutions that are supposed to be fighting it. That makes organized crime a far more challenging adversary, requiring a smarter approach than brute force. Instead of troops, Ecuador needs the capacity to identify criminal masterminds, track financial flows, respond to violence ‘hotspots,’ improve response times, support community-level violence initiatives, weed out corrupt officials and many other duties that an adequately resourced civilian security sector performs. Noboa has issued vague proposals to fill some of those long-term institutional needs. The concern is that he may neglect these—which do not yield short-term results—in favor of a military response, which offers the illusion of action and carries big human rights risks.”

Annual CBP Migrant Encounters at the U.S.-Mexico Border, by Nationality

The U.S. government’s 2023 fiscal year ended on September 30. Here’s a comparison of migration at the U.S.-Mexico border, by migrants’ nationalities, over the past three fiscal years.

Data table

From 2021 to 2023,

  • The three nationalities that saw the largest aggregate increases in migration:
    • Venezuela +217,393
    • “Other Countries” not specifically named in CBP’s data releases +155,007
    • Colombia +153,334
  • The three nationalities that saw the largest percentage increases in migration:
    • China +5,303%
    • Colombia +2,472%
    • Peru +2,268%
  • The three nationalities that saw the largest aggregate decreases in migration:
    • Honduras -105,638
    • Guatemala -62,950
    • El Salvador -37,175
  • The three nationalities that saw the largest percentage decreases in migration:
    • Ukraine -64%
    • Brazil -51%
    • Romania -49%

Darién Gap Migration Dipped in October

Fresh numbers from Panama show a 35 percent drop, from September to October, in the number of people migrating through the Darién Gap. The main cause was a 41 percent decline in the number of citizens of Venezuela (blue in the chart) who traveled through the treacherous jungle region.

Monthly Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

October 2023: Venezuela 70%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 8%, China 6.0%, Ecuador 5.8%, Colombia 4%, all others <2%

Since January 2020: Venezuela 53%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 22%, Ecuador 10%, Cuba 3%, all others <3%

	Venezuela	Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile)	Ecuador	Cuba	Colombia	China	India	Afghanistan	Bangladesh	Other Countries
20-Jan	9	1332	11	48			7		16	115
20-Feb	20	1535	4	45	2		9		48	162
20-Mar	3	972	6	16	2		7		10	83
20-Apr		0								0
20-May		0								0
20-Jun	2	135	1	12			5		10	17
20-Jul		0								0
20-Aug		0			1	3				2
20-Sep	5	84			2					17
20-Oct	5	315	2		2					47
20-Nov	3	313	7	1	1				2	38
20-Dec	22	645	9	123	11		11		37	113
21-Jan	3	720	3	176	8		3		38	120
21-Feb	9	1231	2	205	7				90	313
21-Mar		2193	14	198	1	2	30		15	241
21-Apr	3	3818	12	1306			102		127	497
21-May	113	2180	5	1514			44		118	488
21-Jun	205	6527	9	2770	4		44		131	577
21-Jul	248	15488	19	2354	8		34		210	452
21-Aug	568	21285	22	2857	8		1		128	463
21-Sep	437	22473	48	1566	31	3	40		102	805
21-Oct	339	20626	88	3018	29	11	65		325	1403
21-Nov	352	3595	65	1639	18	22	158		222	1691
21-Dec	542	936	100	997	55	39	71		151	1303
22-Jan	1421	807	100	367	48	32	67	1	70	1789
22-Feb	1573	627	156	334	72	39	74	3	81	1303
22-Mar	1704	658	121	361	59	56	88	40	201	1539
22-Apr	2694	785	181	634	72	59	172	31	126	1380
22-May	9844	997	527	567	248	67	179	67	254	1144
22-Jun	11359	1025	555	416	287	66	228	82	210	1405
22-Jul	17066	1245	883	574	407	85	431	162	236	1733
22-Aug	23632	1921	1581	589	569	119	332	128	150	2083
22-Sep	38399	2642	2594	490	1306	136	350	180	189	1918
22-Oct	40593	4525	8487	663	1600	274	604	551	143	2333
22-Nov	668	5520	6350	535	208	377	813	379	176	1606
22-Dec	1374	6535	7821	431	188	695	756	596	48	1853
23-Jan	2337	12063	6352	142	333	913	562	291	127	1514
23-Feb	7097	7813	5203	36	637	1285	872	276	132	1306
23-Mar	20816	8335	2772	35	1260	1657	1109	359	87	1669
23-Apr	25395	5832	2683	59	1634	1683	446	386	77	2102
23-May	26409	3633	3059	59	1645	1497	161	192	148	2159
23-Jun	18501	1743	5052	74	894	1722	65	217	185	1269
23-Jul	38033	1548	9773	123	1884	1789	96	321	243	1577
23-Aug	62700	1992	8642	172	2989	2433	27	467	159	2365
23-Sep	58716	3176	4744	166	2570	2588	43	609	260	2396
23-Oct	34594	3958	2849	97	2051	2934	36	400	200	2137

Data table

2023 is still—by far—a record-breaking year for Darién Gap migration, though. 458,228 people migrated through the region during the first 10 months of the year, making it certain that the year-end total will surpass 500,000. 294,598 of this year’s migrants (64 percent, blue in the chart) have been Venezuelan.

Annual Migration Through Panama’s Darién Gap

2023: Venezuela 64%, Ecuador 11.2%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 10.9%, China 4%, Colombia 3%, All Others <1%

Since 2010: Venezuela 47%, Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile) 22%, Ecuador 8%, Cuba 7%, Colombia 2.24%, China 2.18%,  All Others <2%

	Venezuela	Haiti (plus Brazil and Chile)	Ecuador	Cuba	Colombia	China	India	Nepal	Bangladesh	Other Countries
2010		0		79		268	12	29	53	118
2011		1	15	18	65	9	11	9	45	110
2012		0	18	1154	24	11	48	213	89	220
2013		2	4	2010	26	1		297	398	313
2014		2	1	5026	9		1	468	377	291
2015	2	8	14	24623	32	1	1	2426	559	1623
2016	6	16742	93	7383	16		20	1619	580	3601
2017	18	40	50	736	36	6	1127	2138	506	2119
2018	65	420	51	329	13		2962	868	1525	2988
2019	78	10490	31	2691	23		1920	254	911	5704
2020	69	5331	40	245	21	3	39	56	123	538
2021	2819	101072	387	18600	169	77	592	523	1657	7830
2022	150327	27287	29356	5961	5064	2005	4094	1631	1884	20675
2023 (Oct)	294598	50093	51129	963	15897	18501	3417	2035	1618	19977

Data table

Data from the United States and Honduras also show sharp drops in migration from Venezuela. The cause appears to be U.S. and Venezuelan governments’ October 5 announcement that they would be renewing deportation flights to Caracas. Though these flights are proving to be relatively infrequent so far, the mere possibility of being sent all the way back to Venezuela seems to have led many Venezuelan citizens considering migration to “wait and see” and delay their plans.

Honduras is the country that reports in-transit migration in the most current manner. Looking at weekly migration through Honduras shows a possible recovery in Venezuelan migration (blue) during the first full week of November. However, a single week’s data don’t necessarily point to a trend. Here is migration of citizens of Venezuela during each week between September 1 and November 9.

“Irregular” Migrants from Venezuela and Haiti Registered in Honduras by Week, September-Early November 2023

	Venezuela	Haiti
Week of 9/1-9/7	10101	2475
Week of 9/8-9/14	8685	3120
Week of 9/15-9/21	11012	5138
Week of 9/22-9/28	9852	4302
Week of 9/29-10/5	10384	5632
Week of 10/6-10/12	8430	6936
Week of 10/13-10/19	8514	8199
Week of 10/20-10/26	7154	11356
Week of 10/27-11/2	4866	5141
Week of 11/3-11/9	8199	1242

The chart also shows citizens of Haiti (green), whose numbers rose then fell during the same period. The recent drop owes to the Haitian government, at strong U.S. suggestion, banning charter flights to Nicaragua at the end of October.

At WOLA: U.S. Congress Must Not Gut the Right to Asylum at a Time of Historic Need

Republican legislators have dug in and have given the Biden administration a list of demands. Aid for Ukraine and other items in the White House’s supplemental budget request will not get their approval, they say, unless the law is changed in ways that all but eliminate the right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Here, at WOLA’s site, is an analysis of this proposal and the unspeakable harm that it would do. We urge the administration and congressional Democrats to stand strong and reject it.

From the conclusion:

If the Senate Republicans’ November 6 proposal were to become law, it would deny asylum to almost all protection-seeking migrants, unless:

  • That migrant sought asylum and received rejections in every country through which they passed en route to the United States.
  • That migrant presented at a land-border port of entry (official border crossing), even though CBP strictly limits asylum seekers’ access to these facilities.
  • The U.S. government could not send that migrant to a third country to seek asylum there.
  • In an initial “credible fear” interview within days of apprehension, that migrant met a higher screening standard.

If an asylum seeker clears those hurdles, the Republican proposal would require them to await their court hearings in ICE detention—even if they are a parent with children—or while “remaining in Mexico.”

This proposal is extraordinarily radical. Congressional Republicans’ demands to attach it to 2024 spending put the Biden administration in a tough position. It is a terrible choice to have to secure funding for Ukraine and other priorities by ending the United States’ historic role as a country of refuge, breaking international commitments dating back to the years after World War II.

Read the whole thing here.

Migration at the U.S.-Mexico Border Dropped 11 Percent from September to October

All CBP (Border Patrol Plus Port of Entry) Migrant Encounters
by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

October 2023: Mexico 26%, Venezuela 17%, Guatemala 10%, Honduras 9%, Colombia 6%, Cuba 5.2%, Ecuador 5.0%, El Salvador 3%, All Others <2%

Since October 2020: Mexico 33%, Honduras 11.2%, Guatemala 11.1%, Venezuela 8%, Cuba 6%, Nicaragua 5%, Colombia 4.5%, All Others <4%

	Mexico	Honduras	Guatemala	Venezuela	Cuba	Nicaragua	Colombia	El Salvador	Ecuador	Other Countries
20-Oct	46786	7370	9292	143	1679	256	26	3014	2220	1143
20-Nov	44164	8199	10323	184	1590	387	69	3650	2765	782
20-Dec	39370	10358	12454	206	2067	640	73	3921	3676	1229
21-Jan	40793	11232	13137	295	1899	534	69	3580	3598	3277
21-Feb	44257	20180	19154	913	3848	706	76	5599	3440	2926
21-Mar	62504	42116	34060	2566	5700	1930	179	9475	5579	9168
21-Apr	65597	38205	30053	6048	3288	3074	260	11043	8079	13148
21-May	70874	32131	26452	7499	2664	4414	408	10462	11691	14002
21-Jun	64908	35033	30246	7583	3072	7435	481	11582	12803	15891
21-Jul	59959	45297	36468	6126	3559	13456	751	12719	17335	17923
21-Aug	56397	42125	37108	6301	4496	9979	1562	12692	17611	21569
21-Sep	59985	27078	24288	10814	4812	7298	2248	10953	7353	37172
21-Oct	66049	21861	19374	13416	5896	9255	3015	9801	748	15422
21-Nov	63846	20105	20469	20388	6605	13627	3368	9664	556	16217
21-Dec	51475	18141	21009	24801	7986	15297	4094	8874	673	26903
22-Jan	60341	12011	13856	22779	9721	11564	3911	5810	602	14279
22-Feb	71850	14075	18215	3073	16557	13296	9608	7146	683	11507
22-Mar	88132	16213	21392	4053	32153	16017	15373	8403	877	19961
22-Apr	82568	15734	19910	4107	34839	12565	13128	8355	1636	42943
22-May	77453	19730	21468	5088	25643	19034	19320	8980	3046	41374
22-Jun	66730	24177	24648	13199	16172	11200	12597	9123	3231	26757
22-Jul	55692	20340	20212	17647	20098	12073	13454	7952	2948	29746
22-Aug	60772	16219	15681	25361	19060	11749	13497	6675	3681	31392
22-Sep	63431	14417	15331	33804	26178	18199	13807	6247	5379	30754
22-Oct	66277	14100	14843	22060	28851	20923	17362	6069	7030	34014
22-Nov	59348	13143	14510	8013	34710	34249	15846	5532	11999	37823
22-Dec	48390	13276	14885	8187	42654	35381	17731	4860	16206	50745
23-Jan	62265	11030	11970	9102	6462	3382	9471	3779	9416	30481
23-Feb	65271	10935	14220	5565	753	636	12851	4719	7372	34308
23-Mar	81307	13355	15293	8320	1316	482	17055	5765	7143	43213
23-Apr	67091	13218	14584	34633	1608	506	17843	4677	6396	51436
23-May	55405	21035	14817	32733	2804	718	18130	5349	6474	49225
23-Jun	49262	15093	10362	20453	2681	417	4705	3182	5105	33296
23-Jul	53928	26023	22127	18958	3668	445	5951	3953	9912	38514
23-Aug	55493	35168	37937	31463	6179	736	8948	6080	13631	37328
23-Sep	53296	27310	34537	66584	10666	1621	13643	7550	15545	38983
23-Oct	63003	21819	23845	40863	12495	3306	13773	7250	12154	42480

Data table

New CBP data for the U.S.-Mexico border is out through October. Combining migrants who came to ports of entry with migrants whom Border Patrol apprehended between the ports of entry, migration fell from 269,735 people in September to 240,988 in October (-11 percent).

Nearly all of the net reduction is citizens of Venezuela, whose numbers fell -39 percent (66,584 in September to 40,863 in October). The Biden administration’s October 5 announcement of resumed deportation flights to Venezuela probably explains the reduction. News of the resumption may have led some would-be migrants to pause their plans.

This drop will probably be short-lived, unless the Biden administration pursues a massive, costly, cruel, and politically absurd blitz of frequent aerial deportation flights to Caracas. (We see no signs of that happening yet.) As I wrote a couple of days ago, it is reasonable to expect Venezuelan migration to recover, as conditions in the country remain dire and as Venezuelans considering migration realize that the probability of aerial deportation is slim.

Annual Border Patrol Migrant Encounters by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

I made this chart, and underlying data table, by combining CBP’s migrant encounter data from 2020-2023 with data scraped from this big ugly CBP PDF covering 2007-2020.

Annual Border Patrol Migrant Encounters by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

2023: Mexico 31%, Guatemala 11.2%, Venezuela 10.6%, Mexico 20%, Honduras 10%, Colombia 8%, Cuba 6.1%, Ecuador 6.0%, All Others <6%

Since 2007: Mexico 51%, Guatemala 13%, Honduras 11%, El Salvador 6%, Venezuela 4%, Cuba 3.2%, All Others <3%

	Mexico	Guatemala	Honduras	El Salvador	Venezuela	Cuba	Nicaragua	Colombia	Ecuador	Other Countries
2007	800634	16307	21703	13602	60	131	1484	302	769	3647
2008	653035	15143	18110	12133	48	132	1327	215	1384	3478
2009	495582	14125	13344	11181	32	105	841	233	1169	4253
2010	396819	16831	12231	13123	35	84	760	307	1571	5970
2011	280580	17582	11270	10368	28	66	520	217	1064	5882
2012	262341	34453	30349	21903	28	40	876	185	2226	4472
2013	265409	54143	46448	36957	34	73	1389	365	3958	5621
2014	226771	80473	90968	66419	15	98	1809	233	4748	7837
2015	186017	56691	33445	43392	23	106	1015	282	2556	7806
2016	190760	74601	52952	71848	40	78	1298	302	2713	14278
2017	127938	65871	47260	49760	73	147	1057	196	1429	10185
2018	152257	115722	76513	31369	62	74	3282	192	1495	15613
2019	166458	264168	253795	89811	2202	11645	13309	401	13131	36588
2020	253118	47243	40091	16484	1227	9822	2123	295	11861	18387
2021	608037	279033	308931	95930	47752	38139	49841	5838	95692	114247
2022	738780	228220	199186	93196	187286	220321	163552	124540	23944	177672
2023	579146	213266	180659	53348	200668	116498	97757	154077	113813	188135

Data table

Looking at this, three things jump out at you:

  1. Until about 10 years ago, the migrant population at the U.S.-Mexico border was almost completely Mexican citizens (blue). More than 90 percent Mexican until 2009. More than 80 percent Mexican until 2012. Just 31 percent Mexican in 2023.
  2. Until the pandemic hit, the migrant population was almost completely Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, or Honduran (blue, darker green, brown, yellow). More than 90 percent came from those four countries until 2019; their share dropped to 89 percent in 2020. But just 54 percent came from those four countries in 2023.
  3. Since the pandemic, the diversity of nationalities apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border has multiplied. The arrival of more migrants from Cuba, Haiti, and South America reflects increasing insecurity and economic desperation, but also the emergence of new routes further south, like the “opening” of the Darién Gap and aerial arrivals in Nicaragua.

Haiti Led Nationalities of In-Transit Migration Through Honduras in October

Honduras’s “Irregular” Migrant Encounters (Since August 2022)

October 2023: Haiti 35%, Venezuela 34%, Cuba 17%, Ecuador 4%, Guinea 2.3%, Colombia 2.0%, All Others <2%

Since August 2022: Venezuela 41%, Cuba 17%, Haiti 15%, Ecuador 11%, Colombia 2.1%, All Others <2% 

	Venezuela	Cuba	Haiti	Ecuador	Colombia	China	Senegal	Guinea	Mauritania	Other Countries
22-Aug	10769	6899	836	1583	314	42	118	19	18	2278
22-Sep	11325	5144	863	1685	379	45	135	23	14	2220
22-Oct	14027	5290	1856	5793	723	99	185	30	18	3037
22-Nov	3756	9219	2858	5130	400	186	158	34	38	3857
22-Dec	1923	7225	2518	6557	231	405	87	22	63	4034
23-Jan	1866	2079	5365	4562	296	415	202	72	31	4054
23-Feb	4462	629	4092	5010	449	688	159	97	71	4449
23-Mar	9112	776	2991	2493	624	719	191	90	88	4576
23-Apr	10883	1301	2392	1692	682	985	472	87	87	4350
23-May	11809	2397	1629	2147	654	801	831	277	427	4398
23-Jun	12698	3254	1305	2817	488	1045	390	118	1801	2870
23-Jul	25050	6721	1558	6116	954	980	1398	389	2036	3769
23-Aug	35669	11343	4051	5789	1330	654	1629	1005	1036	3020
23-Sep	42550	19288	14898	4830	2174	570	1066	1762	48	3453
23-Oct	34547	17513	35529	3581	2021	1006	1235	2304	75	4198

Data table

We’ve grown accustomed to Venezuela (blue in this chart) being the number-one nationality of migrants transiting Central America and Mexico to come to the United States. Venezuela has been the number-one country of citizenship of people transiting Honduras during every month since March, and U.S. authorities encountered more migrants from Venezuela than from any other country—including Mexico—at the U.S.-Mexico border in September.

Data from Honduras in October, however, show at least a temporary pause in that trend. Last month, Honduras registered more migrants from Haiti transiting its territory (brown in this chart) than from Venezuela. (A new “Mixed Movements Protection Monitoring” report from UNCHR also notes this trend.)

It was a record month for Honduras’s registries of in-transit migrants from around the world: 102,009 people with “irregular” migratory status registered with the government, a necessary step for a short-term legal status making it possible to board buses to get across the country. Of that number, 35,529 were Haitian and 34,547 were Venezuelan. (271 were recorded as Brazilian and 489 as Chilean; many—probably most—of them were children born to Haitian citizen parents who had been living in those countries.)

Transit of Venezuelan migrants through Honduras fell 19 percent from September to October, from 42,550 to 34,547 people.

A possible reason could be a reaction to the Biden administration’s early October agreement with Venezuela to resume deportation flights to Caracas, news of which may have led some would-be migrants to pause their plans. Aerial deportations are expensive, however, and a charter flight to Venezuela only holds about 100-150 people. It is reasonable to expect Venezuelan migration to recover, as conditions in the country remain dire and as Venezuelans considering migration realize that the probability of aerial deportation is slim.

The sharp increase in Haitian migration appears to owe to a new air route from Haiti to Nicaragua, which does not require that visiting citizens of Haiti obtain a visa in advance (though it charges them a steep fee upon arrival). For more on that, see this good November 6 analysis from the Honduras-based journalism website ContraCorriente.

One Out of Four Is a Lot

This can’t be the point Sen. Graham wanted to make, but:

Immigration judges, after rigorous procedures, are finding that 1 out of 4 people coming to the U.S.-Mexico border would be likely to die or be imprisoned if deported.

That’s a high likelihood of sending people back to severe harm if we deny them due process. It’s a strong argument for giving asylum seekers in the United States a fair hearing and to invest heavily in our asylum system.

Hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee, November 8, 2023
(https://bit.ly/3FTZvC8)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina): You're the head of DHS and you can't tell me how many asylum claims are approved versus denied.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas: Generally, generally speaking across the board on a macro basis, it's approximately 75% [denied asylum].

Graham: Okay.

On the Table Now: a Fatal Blow to the Right to Seek Protection in the United States

A Senate Republican “working group” has outlined a border and migration proposal as a likely condition of keeping the U.S. government open past the next “shutdown” date (November 17).

I’m still struggling to express graphically how severe this proposal’s consequences would be for tens of thousands of people facing real danger. Here is another attempt.

Infographic: Imagine that Senate Republicans' November 2023 border and migration proposal became law. Now imagine that you have fled to the U.S. border to seek asylum.

A series of arrows pointing downward, getting ever narrower as they reach the bottom.

Did you seek asylum, and get turned down, in every single country you passed through, no matter how impoverished, dangerous, and unable to protect you those countries are?

Did CBP officers doing “metering” at the borderline permit you to approach an official land border crossing (port of entry) to ask for asylum?

Was DHS somehow unable to ship you off to a (likely impoverished or dangerous) third country to go seek asylum there?

In your rapid screening interview, did you meet a new, very high “credible fear” standard?

Was DHS somehow unable to make you “Remain in Mexico”while you await your immigration court hearings?

Was ICE somehow unable to hold you (and your kids) in detention?

Did you make it this far? Almost certainly not. But if you did, then the United States might consider protecting you from likely harm, without jailing you in a detention center. This is a remarkably cruel proposal, undoing generations of basic protections. It must not become law.

View the actual proposal at https://bit.ly/2311_senate_gop

This Border Proposal Could Send Us Back to the 1930s—and Some of it Might Pass

As the U.S. government scrambles to agree on a 2024 budget to avoid another “shutdown” on November 17, Republican leaders of the U.S. Senate have laid down a set of border and migration demands as their top condition for agreeing to any new spending deal. If the Biden administration wants aid to Ukraine, for example, these are the GOP demands. Republicans in the House have similar—or perhaps harsher—demands.

Using the one-pager that Senate Republicans shared yesterday, here’s a graphic that shows how thoroughly their proposal would obliterate threatened people’s right to seek asylum in the United States.

This is a right that most of the world adopted after World War II. The congressional Republican proposal would send us back to the 1930s. And the Biden administration is already indicating to Democratic allies that they might have to adopt some of it.

If this ever became law, someone fleeing likely death or imprisonment would only be able to access the U.S. asylum system if:

  • They tried, and failed, to seek asylum in every country through which they passed on the way—no matter how impoverished, dangerous, or ill-governed the country.
  • They came to a port of entry (official border crossing), even though Customs and Border Protection, through a practice called “metering,” allows only a bare trickle of asylum seekers to access these facilities.
  • They could not be shipped off to a third country to seek asylum there (the Trump administration made agreements with Guatemala and Honduras to be “third countries” for asylum seekers).
  • They were able to meet a higher standard of “credible fear of persecution” in screening interviews performed shortly after arrival at the U.S. border.
  • They awaited their U.S. immigration court hearing dates while “remaining” in northern Mexico, or while sitting in ICE detention centers—even if they are families with children.

More Photos from Colombia

I just got back to Washington at mid-day today, after two weeks in Colombia. Before I left, I replaced my four-and-a-half year-old phone with a current model, because the old one’s port wasn’t always connecting to the cable and I didn’t want to find myself there with an unpowered phone.

The new phone isn’t much different than the old one, with one huge exception: the camera, which makes me seem like a much better photographer than I actually am.

Here are some images that are less work-related but just pretty cool. Presented in no particular order. Click on any to expand in a new window. (I’ve shared other photos from the trip in two earlier posts.)

Bogotá at night.

Mural in El Placer, Putumayo, Colombia.

A few hundred people from Embera-Katío Indigenous communities, displaced by violence in northwestern Colombia, have been camped since October in Bogotá’s Parque Nacional, in the middle of the city near the Javeriana University.

A griffin atop Colombia’s Congress building.

The people of Ipiales, Nariño celebrated Halloween with aplomb.

Not usually a fan of dressing kids up as cops, but the kid in the lower left in Ipiales is super cute.

The spot where we had a hearty breakfast in La Bonita, Ecuador, along the border with Nariño, Colombia.

Outside Lago Agrio, Ecuador, a few minutes’ drive south of Colombia.

Paramilitary display in the “Museum of Memory” in El Placer, Putumayo. The building used to be a school (hence the beat-up chalkboard), where paramilitaries committed numerous abuses. One of the photos on the chalk ledge was taken by me in 2004.

Darién Gap-bound migrants bathing in the Gulf of Urabá in Necoclí, Antioquia.

Boats in Necoclí, ready to take migrants across the Gulf of Urabá to the Darién Gap.

Orito, Putumayo on Saturday night.

Central Bogotá’s Plaza de Bolívar, recently grafitti’ed by student protesters.

Roadside arepas in La Hormiga, Putumayo.

Looking into San Miguel, Putumayo, Colombia from the Ecuador side of the border bridge.

Provisions for migrants’ walk through the Darién Gap, on sale near the dock in Turbo, Antioquia.

The army and police welcome you to Urabá, northwestern Colombia (at the Apartadó, Antioquia airport).

At the Rumichaca bridge between Ipiales, Nariño, Colombia and (in the background) Tulcán, Carchi, Ecuador.

Six days in Putumayo and Along the Colombia-Ecuador Border

Greetings from Bogotá. I’m here until tomorrow night, with 10 meetings on the schedule today and tomorrow.

This was day 13 of a 14-day research trip. I’ve slept in 10 different hotels in 9 places:

  • Bogotá
  • Apartadó, Antioquia
  • Necoclí, Antioquia
  • Bogotá
  • Puerto Asís, Putumayo
  • Orito, Putumayo
  • La Hormiga, Putumayo
  • Lago Agrio, Sucumbíos, Ecuador
  • Ipiales, Nariño
  • Pasto, Nariño
  • Bogotá

The purpose of this insane itinerary was to learn about the latest developments in migration through, and to, Colombia. I was able to visit the Colombia-Panama and Colombia-Ecuador border regions.

With two WOLA colleagues I was on the outskirts of the Darién Gap region straddling Colombia and Panama, through which nearly 500,000 migrants have passed so far this year. With longtime Colombian colleagues I also visited the border between Carchi, Ecuador and Nariño, Colombia, through which hundreds of Darién-bound migrants from dozens of countries pass each day.

While at the Colombia-Ecuador border I was also able to spend a few days in the department of Putumayo, which is where U.S.-backed military and police anti-drug operations began after the 2000 passage of the Clinton administration’s mammoth initial “Plan Colombia” aid package. Twenty-three years later, Putumayo remains a principal zone of coca and cocaine production, under the heavy influence of two feuding armed groups.

I need to go through my tens of thousands of words of notes just to come up with the number of meetings and conversations I’ve had since October 22. It’s more than 50. I’ve talked to people migrating, aid workers, international organizations, migrants associations, Indigenous groups, campesino groups, coca cultivators, mayors and other local officials, national government officials, U.S. diplomats, journalists, human rights defenders, police, scholars, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some sectors.

I’ve barely had time yet to process my notes, much less wrap my head around what I’ve seen and heard. But here are some photos from Putumayo, northern Ecuador, and Nariño. (I posted Darién-area photos about a week ago.)

The Putumayo River, which eventually flows in to the Amazon, just north of Puerto Asís, Putumayo.

At a supermarket in Orito, Putumayo, a sign advertises money transfers to Venezuela. People who have fled Venezuela live all over Colombia, even in places like Orito that are very distant from Venezuela and have a strong presence of coca cultivation and armed groups.

Colombia held local elections on Sunday October 29. On the evening of the 28th in Orito, mayoral candidates held rallies outside their party headquarters.

El Placer, Putumayo, was the site of a 1999 paramilitary massacre; the town became notorious nationwide for the paramilitaries’ systematic rapes of the town’s women and girls. At the time, the United States was pumping military aid into Putumayo under “Plan Colombia” even though the local armed forces collaborated with the paramilitaries. The town’s school, where paramilitaries committed many of the violations, is now a “museum of memory.” I took one of the photos on the wall here (see page 323 of this report) during a 2004 visit when I worked for the Center for International Policy.

The bridge between San Miguel, Putumayo, Colombia and General Farfán, Sucumbíos, Ecuador.

The mountains of Nariño, Colombia viewed from La Bonita, Sucumbíos, Ecuador.

Families—almost certainly Darién-bound, as they’re traveling with sleeping gear and minimal backpacks—at the bus station in the border city of Tulcán, Ecuador.

The two kids on the left, one with a Venezuelan flag-themed backpack, are southbound: they said they just left Venezuela and are headed to Peru, where they have relatives. This is the bus terminal in Tulcán, Ecuador.

We encountered several groups of people fleeing China. This is the Tulcán bus terminal, but people holding Chinese passports were also at the official border crossing and on my flight today from Pasto, Nariño to Bogotá.

The Rumichaca border crossing between Tulcán, Carchi, Ecuador and Ipiales, Nariño, Colombia.

The bus terminal in the border city of Ipiales, Nariño.

Migrant shelter run by Pastoral Social (Caritas) in Ipiales.

Back From Urabá, Colombia

I spent the past few days in and around Necoclí, Colombia, an area through which tens of thousands of migrants, from dozens of countries, pass. Here, they take boats across the Gulf of Urabá to the Darién region straddling Colombia and Panama, where they undergo a treacherous several-day journey through dense jungle.

Here are a few photos. I’m in another zone of Colombia now, as research continues, so there’s no time to write much yet. We had our photographer Sergio with us, who took much better photos than the ones here.

The Darién region, viewed from across the Gulf of Urabá.

Carrying provisions, people prepare to board boats. Most people we spoke with were from Venezuela, but we also spoke with people from Ecuador, Haiti, and Cuba, and saw some migrants from China.

Migrants who can’t pay the boat fare, and fees charged by organized crime, sleep on the beach until they can get enough money together. There are no migrant shelters in Necoclí.

A smaller number of migrants lacking boat fare waits in tents near the dock in Turbo, south of Necoclí.

Water purification tablets and mosquito spray for the jungle journey.

Armed-group tag in Turbo.

Venezuela Was the Number-One Nationality of Migrants at the U.S.-Mexico Border in September

For the first month since August 2019, Mexico is not the number-one nationality of migrants encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border. Venezuela, for the first time, was number one.

Chart: All CBP (Border Patrol Plus Port of Entry) Migrant Encounters
by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

September 2023: Venezuela 25%, Mexico 20%, Guatemala 13%, Honduras 10%, Ecuador 6%, Colombia 5%, Cuba 4%, El Salvador 3%, All Others <3%
Since October 2020: Mexico 33%, Honduras 11.3%, Guatemala 11.1%, Venezuela 8%, Cuba 6%, Nicaragua 5%, Colombia 4.4%, All Others <4%

Data table

Just-released data show that Border Patrol apprehended 54,833 citizens of Venezuela in the areas between the U.S.-Mexico border’s ports of entry in September, a record for countries other than Mexico, and far more than its apprehensions of 39,773 Mexican citizens in September.

Chart: Border Patrol Apprehensions by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

September 2023: Venezuela 25%, Mexico 18%, Guatemala 15%, Honduras 11%, Ecuador 7%, Colombia 6%, El Salvador 3%, All Others <2% 
Since October 2020: Mexico 33%, Guatemala 12.2%, Honduras 11.7%, Venezuela 7%, Cuba 6%, Nicaragua 5.3%, Colombia 4.8%, El Salvador 4.1%, All Others <4%

Data table

At the ports of entry (official border crossings), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountered 11,751 more Venezuelan citizens, most of them asylum seekers who had made appointments using the CBP One smartphone app. (In September, of 50,972 people who made it onto U.S. soil at ports of entry, CBP reports that about 43,000—84 percent—had CBP One appointments.) Mexico, with 13,523 citizens encountered, was still the number-one nationality at the ports of entry.

Chart: CBP Port of Entry Migrant Encounters by Country at the U.S.-Mexico Border

September 2023: Mexico 27%, Venezuela 23%, Cuba 19%, Haiti 9%, Honduras 7%, Russia 3%, Colombia 2%, All Others <2% 
Since October 2020: Mexico 38%, Haiti 15%, Venezuela 10%, Honduras 8.4%, Russia 8.3%, Cuba 4%, All Others <4%

Data Table

Add together the ports of entry and the areas between them, and Venezuela was the number-one nationality in September with 66,584 migrant encounters. Mexico was the number-two nationality, with 53,296. No other nationality came close; Guatemala was in third place with 34,537.

September marked the end of the U.S. government’s 2023 fiscal year. For decades, CBP has reported its migrant encounters by fiscal year, so we now have a “year-end” comparison, at least for Border Patrol apprehensions between the ports of entry. Using this metric—which may include some double-counting, with the same migrant being apprehended two or more times—we find that 2023 was the number-two year ever for Border Patrol migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border. Only 2022 was higher.

Data table

Only 28 percent of migrants apprehended at the Mexico border in fiscal 2023 were citizens of Mexico. Since 2000, 67 percent of migrants apprehended at the border have been Mexican citizens.

(Note: at GitHub, I’ve updated the tool I use to make these and many other migration charts, with data going back to October 2019. I use it all the time, feel free to run a version of your own. It does require you to know how to run a free web server on your computer; I don’t make it public because generating a table with 48 months and 20 countries makes a web server work very hard.)

A Political Stunt Falls Flat at the Border

In July, the Republican governor of Virginia, a swing state far from the U.S.-Mexico border, sent a contingent of 100 state National Guard troops to Texas to support Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) border-security clampdown known as “Operation Lone Star.” The troops went, Youngkin said, to combat the “fentanyl crisis.”

Anybody who looks at data could have told Youngkin that 89 percent of fentanyl along the border gets seized at the official border crossings, not in the wide-open areas between the crossings, where his guardsmen were on duty. We also could have told Youngkin that the overwhelming majority of fentanyl is crossing in California and Arizona, not Texas.

But the Governor sent the troops, and off they went to Eagle Pass, at a cost of $2 million over 3 weeks.

And unsurprisingly, over the course of their deployment, they encountered exactly zero shipments of fentanyl.

That’s a finding of the news team at the local Washington, DC NBC TV affiliate. Reporters filed an open-records request with the state of Virginia and obtained daily “situation reports” and other documents from the deployment.

The guardsmen did see 6,717 people they described as “illegal immigrants” and referred 1,834 to the federal Border Patrol. This isn’t surprising, as several hundred migrants per day have been crossing in Eagle Pass, seeking to turn themselves in to apply for asylum. You can stand by the riverbank there and see migrants, too.

After several days, a “commander’s assessment” document noted “a weakening of the deterrent effect of our Soldiers and Airmen.” Migrants, seeking to turn themselves in anyway, were ignoring commands to turn back.

Troublingly, NBC reported that the internal reports showed “conflict over Virginia’s policy to withhold water to migrants.” Texas has ordered Operation Lone Star guardsmen not only to block and turn back asylum seekers already on U.S. soil, which violates federal law and the Refugee Convention. It also has ordered them to refuse water and other assistance to migrants on the riverbank, held back by Texas’s concertina wire and troops, even in 100-degree heat, even when those migrants are families with children. The reports reveal some “conflict” over Virginia’s enforcement of this inhumane policy.

The tactical impact of Virginia’s National Guard deployment was zero. The impact on morale and readiness was likely negative. But Governor Youngkin got to travel to downtown Eagle Pass for a photo op (his office provides a page of media-ready high-res photos), so there’s that.

We Should Reflect and Discuss Events in a Way That Will Not Increase the Despair and the Anger in People.

The row began one day after Hamas’s unprecedented 7 October attacks when Petro used his official X account to denounce what he called “neo-Nazi” efforts to destroy the Palestinian people, freedom and culture.

The World Jewish Congress accused Colombia’s leftwing president of completely ignoring the hundreds of Israeli civilian victims and called Petro’s statement “an insult to the six million victims of the Holocaust and to the Jewish people”.

The next day Petro returned to social media to comment on claims by Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Galant, that his troops were fighting “human animals” in Gaza. “This is what the Nazis said about the Jews,” tweeted Petro. “All this hate speech will do, if it continues, is lead to a Holocaust.”

Over the coming days, Petro – who has declined to strongly condemn the atrocities committed by Hamas – repeatedly used social media to criticize Israel’s military response.

“I’ve been to the Auschwitz concentration camp and now I see it being copied in Gaza,” Petro said in one post, drawing a polite rebuke from Israel’s ambassador in Bogotá, Gali Dagan, who offered to take him to the kibbutzim in southern Israel that Hamas attacked “and where many Latinos live”.
From the Guardian.

I’m deeply saddened by Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s decision to respond to a man-made calamity, on the brink of a calamitous reprisal, by taking to Twitter and using inflammatory language that does nothing to bring peace closer.

The world needs to hear wisdom right now, especially from the leader of a country that’s struggling to heal the wounds of its own generations of man-made calamity. The Colombian people need to hear wisdom.

That’s all. Except for this Thich Nhat Hanh quote.

If one terrorist group is violently destroyed, another will emerge; it’s endless. So I told the editors, “When you report on terrorist acts, use your compassion and deep understanding. Explain the story in such a way that the reader doesn’t become enraged and perhaps become another terrorist.”

We can tell the truth, but we must help people understand. When people understand, their anger will lessen. They don’t lose hope, they know what to do and what not to do, what to consume and what not to consume in order not to continue this kind of suffering. So my message that morning was that we should reflect and discuss events in a way that will not increase the despair and the anger in people. Instead, we can help them to understand why things happen, so their insight and compassion increase. We can make a big difference with the practice of looking deeply. The solution isn’t to hide the truth.

Sketchy Data Indicate that Migration May Be Leveling Off, or Even Decreasing, at the Border Since September

It’s hard to tell for sure, because reporting is very partial. But it seems like the rapid July-September increase in the number of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has leveled off, or could even be receding slightly.

That is the murky picture that emerges when gleaning data from Border Patrol sector chiefs’ social media accounts and from the City of El Paso. See for yourself below.

If accurate, this may owe more to Mexico cracking down on in-transit migration than to any important change in migration along the U.S.-bound route. September numbers were steady in Panama and grew sharply in Honduras.

Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector (Texas):

Tucson Sector (Arizona):

El Paso Sector (Texas-New Mexico); all data from El Paso municipal dashboard

  • Week 37 of 2023 (September 11-17): 1,170/day
  • Week 38 of 2023 (September 18-24): 1,637/day
  • Week 39 of 2023 (September 25-October 1): 1,333/day
  • Week 40 of 2023 (October 2-8): 1,162/day
  • Week 41 of 2023 (October 9-15): 909/day

San Diego Sector (California):

Yuma Sector (Arizona-California):

Not reporting on social media:

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